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Hey guys, So I finished a story that's been sitting incomplete on my hard drive for the last couple years. A brief warning: it is dark and a little twisted but as it's meant to have a Halloween theme, it's not unexpected. This story evolved from a series of therapy writings I was doing while in treatment for severe depression and trauma. This story may not be for most so while I will appreciate any feedback, pleas make it constructive. Again, you've been warned this is not a "Happily Ever After" sort of tale... or maybe it could be depending on your point of view. I hope you enjoy and have a Happy Halloween! ***** Chapter 1 Halloween. The one day a year where magic seems much more tangible and attainable. Where anything can happen (and often does) in ways that should be unexplainable and yet are accepted as easily as dream logic. I was never a fan of Halloween, even as a kid. Sure, the free candy was nice, but it ranked just slightly above Valentine’s Day in terms of my enthusiasm because I just didn’t get it. This year, that changed. This year I realized the full scope of Halloween. The ancient power it held and how easy it was to tap into that power. This year, Halloween became my favorite holiday. Let me back things up just a bit for you. Proper introductions are important after all. My name is James and I’m what most people call a “good guy”. At least, that’s what I have heard from seemingly everyone lately. Trouble is though that I don’t seem to be good enough. Okay, maybe I should back things up just a bit more for you. A little over a year ago my first real romantic relationship ended. The guy I had been “seeing” for about 8 months told me that he was officially going to be with someone else. Someone younger than I was. Someone who was more outgoing and fun than I was. Someone that was better built than I was (my ex had as much a muscle fetish as I do, more on that later). Someone that he had been seeing the entire time we had been dating (though he refused to call it dating) and even though he said he still cared for me (downgraded from loved me, which he told me he did less than a month before breaking things off) and wanted to be in my life, he needed to follow his heart. Trouble is, I seriously doubt that his heart had anything to do with the matter, other than supplying enough blood to his dick… Anyway, in the months following the “break up” we had been trying to remain friends. I was trying at least, whereas he seemed to be phoning it in most of the time because, let’s face it, he had someone else to devote his time/life to and no one else really seems to matter in that situation. After a series of setups and disappointments by both of them, their constant playing with my emotions and making me question my sense of reality/history, this culminated in quite a severe mental breakdown: a major case of depression resulting in multiple suicide attempts telling myself I wasn’t good enough to keep living. After being hospitalized and attempting my best at treatment, I wasn’t “getting better” as quickly or in the ways he thought I should. Unfortunately, due to this and his own choices, recently he decided that I was no longer worth his time or trouble and he completely cut ties with me. I’m sure many of you are saying that I should have done that first and a long time ago. That I should have moved on, found someone better, written him off as one of the worst human beings on the planet and been done with it. I had more than one therapist tell me as much, or at least something akin to that fact, as well as many friends/family members tell me that I needed to simply forget about him and move on. If only the heart worked on a system of logic like that. My brain certainly did, and I kept telling myself all the things he had done that were clearly in the “con” column to try and give my own heart enough evidence to stop hurting. Alas, the heart is chaotic and ruled by something far stranger, more complex and far more precious than logic. I loved him. I loved him with all I had and I still do because real, true love is unconditional like that. That was enough in the “pro” column to outweigh anything else I could muster in opposition. Still, that doesn’t mean I wasn’t hurt, betrayed, disappointed, angry, hell furious to the point of nearly feeling homicidal at both of them, but through all of that pain, I still love him. Anyway, slightly off track so let’s get back to the main part of this story. Throughout the last several months I have done my best to try and “get better”. To improve myself and to regain some semblance of normalcy after the trauma and continued hell that I was put through both by myself and the actions of others (not just my ex). Eventually I was able to learn how to put up enough barriers and walls to not feel like a raw nerve all the time and allow myself time to heal a bit, but let’s face it, wounds that pierce that deep never really heal. Eventually, I realized that I wasn’t going to be the person I was before. Too much of me had changed, too much had been irrevocably lost. I could be someone different, maybe even someone better, but I couldn’t ever get back to the place or the person I was either when I was with him or before. So, I did what I could to make myself feel better, to rebuild my life as it were and a large portion of that would next revolve around me rebuilding a “new” body. One of the things I shared with my ex was a desire to become as big and muscular as possible. I’m not talking cute fitness or “beach bodies” but real hulking muscle monsters. Those beasts of brawn at the top of the bodybuilding community where you part crowds like the Red Sea, and where limited range of motion is the goal. To get to the point where there was no doubt that we were serious meat heads and that we had no desire to slow down nor stop growing anytime soon… well ever really. With his encouragement and guidance, I was able to break through the last mental hurdles I had that were stopping me from actively pursuing that goal and started going to the gym. I had been giving myself no end of excuses for years but with him in my life I finally had enough confidence to put them all aside and start on the path of never-ending growth. I paid for a personal trainer, dedicated myself to it and I was fortunate to share the beginning of that journey with him and even though I stumbled with it for a while after our “break up” I have gotten back to it and have continued to grow and develop and improve myself physically which has helped in many ways to improve myself mentally. The only trouble I had though was that I still tie a lot of this muscle growth journey to him. I still recall our workouts together when I’m lifting, the meals we prepped and shared after a long workout, even when I was giving him his weekly injections. All in the pursuit of our mutual growth. I’m still trying to untangle the goals and desires of being massive from including him and have the focus be for me. However, knowing that he left me for someone bigger and better built than I was while initially highly damaging to me, has now provided plenty of motivation for my workouts. I was going to work my ass off to show him what he missed out on. I may not have been good enough before, but I would do whatever it took to outclass the guy he left me for and show them both what real muscle was! At least, that was the plan. Despite the fact that I had done all this work, changed my physique and was in much better shape and condition than I had ever been, I still was considered a “good guy” but not enough for anyone to want to date or be in a relationship with. Sure, I had many who wanted to fuck me, or be fucked by me, a single photo update on my online profile was enough to see that I had improved physically to be more desirable, but the couple of times I had met someone it was just a hormone release to them, or another sexual conquest and then they ghosted me. I was a good enough one-time disposable fuck toy, but not good enough to date. In my mind, it always came back to the voice that I wasn’t “good enough”. I wasn’t big enough, defined enough, handsome enough, so I did my best to focus that negative energy into my workouts. Given my pre-depression mindset of body dysmorphia for wanting to be a juggernaut of muscle and strength, this caused quite the feedback loop of pushing myself like a madman in the gym. Having all that fuel the fire of my workouts has no doubt been a benefit given my progress in the last few months even if it tends to scare off some people at the gym. Several friends I have lifted with commented that when they see the determination and focus on my face during a set, to them it came across as intimidating, aggressive and what one friend lovingly refers to as RBF (Resting Bitch Face). “Hey James, how have you been?” I jump and turn around to see Scott one machine down from me. “Oh, hey Scott, didn’t see you there. I’m good man, how’re you?” Normally I would say that even if I had seen him so as not to come across as a creeper, but I really hadn’t noticed him because when I lift, I am 100% focused on my form and my own body. All my concentration is in my muscles to ensure maximum engagement and results. I don’t scan the gym for whatever eye candy is there and ogle the guys showing off like so many do, despite Scott being seriously delicious eye candy. Plus, today he was in very different gym attire than what I was used to seeing him in (head to toe oversized sweats instead of a tight muscle tee and even tighter shorts that he normally wore) including a cap that obstructed his face so I honestly didn’t recognize it was him. “Not surprised. You’ve got better focus than almost anybody I’ve seen. I bet a riot could erupt and you wouldn’t know until you were done with your set!” “Probably. Came close to that the other day apparently. There was some issue with another member that had to be asked to leave and I had to ask what happened after all was said and done because I was doing a drop set and missed the whole thing! Besides, you look like you’re trying to avoid the paparazzi dressed like that! What’s new with you? Still prepping for that show in February?” Scott had planned and started doing prep three months ago for a show that took place last week but had to back out last minute due to other obligations. Scott had one of the best physiques I’ve ever seen in person coupled with a model level gorgeous face and a really nice, genuine personality. He was honestly as close to my ideal guy as possible which of course meant he was unavailable. Despite that letdown, he has taught me quite a bit about different exercises, plus helped me a bit with how to pose (which is nowhere near as easy as spectators believe). “Oh yeah, that was a bit of a mess I heard. Steph had to threaten to call the cops before he finally left.” “Yep. Which given the fact that I’m sure she could have kicked this guy’s ass by herself was merely a courtesy to him.” Steph was one of the employees at the gym. She is about 5’6 or so but better built and more conditioned than half of the guys who work out here. Couple that with a “take no shit” type of personality and she’s a force to be reckoned with! She will speak her mind even if it’s not in a professional way and is one of the funniest and friendliest people I know. She is not someone I would like to mess with though, even if I have a good 6” in height and 100 or so pounds on her. She’s small but she’s scrappy. “No doubt! I would not want to get on her bad side for sure! And no, not looking to avoid the paparazzi, I’m not that popular. Yeah in the midst of prep for it, hence the sweats. Time to up the cardio and it’s better to do cardio in sweats or heavy clothing as it traps the heat meaning you burn more calories. So how have you been? Haven’t seen you for a while.” Scott and I tended to lift at about the same time every day depending on our work schedules and had developed a rapport. Because I found him so easy to talk to, he inadvertently was one of those people that I had dumped my problems onto without consciously realizing it. The biggest of which happened to be my love life, or lack thereof, and all the things that had happened with Lee (my ex). He was one of the few people who helped keep me accountable and consistently going to the gym to help work through my issues and use the weights to better myself. Even though he was straight (which I found out after asking him out on an impulse, however he was extremely gracious and tactful in his response to my invitation) he was truly a nice guy and always had a nice word for me to help bolster my spirits. “Um, good, I guess. Been a rough few days at work but hanging in there as best I can. Have another ‘anniversary’ coming up which will be a challenge but somehow, I will make it through. And believe me, you’re more popular than you realize! I’ll admit to having the urge to be a paparazzi and sneak a few shots of you from time to time! I haven’t, but the urge is there. You’ve got a killer physique; one you’ve worked really hard developing and one that should be photographed and shown off.” One thing I’ve learned about most “straight” guys who are bodybuilders, if you stroke their ego enough, they tend to overlook the sexual inuendo and subtle flirting. “Ha!” he laughed and looked humble (yet another thing I found so attractive about him) “Maybe at a show, not any other time. But sorry to hear that you’re having a rough time. Well Halloween is coming up so that should help you right? Isn’t Tric doing some big Halloween party? You should get dressed up, go out, get drunk, have some fun. Take your mind off things for a night.” “You would think so right? I do actually have tentative plans with some friends to go to a party, but the anniversary is Halloween. Spent it with my ex last year post break-up to try and see how well we mesh as friends and he was the happiest I have ever seen him. The later it got, the drunker he got and more he went on about how great the other guy was and how happy he was in the relationship. Hard to sit through. Still, all I can do is take things one step at a time which right now means getting back to my workout and not letting a super stud like you distract me from my gains!” I laughed and took a quick sip from my shaker while I waited for his reply. He raised his hands in surrender with a grin forming on his face. “I wouldn’t dream of doing that! I need to get my ass on the stair climber anyway. Have a good workout man and I’ll catch you later!” He shook my hand before turning to leave. “Good luck climbing the Empire State Building!” I called after him grinning. He turned to smile back and then we both returned to our respective workouts. I finished up my chest workout a short while later having fully exhausted myself and burned through all my frustrations caused by my job that day. I managed to catch Scott's eye and wave as I walked out of the gym saying goodbye to the person at the desk. Once outside I patted down and searched in my pockets to find my keys. Realizing they weren’t there and most likely landed in my gym bag, I stopped at the back of my car setting the bag on the trunk to fish them out. Without warning, I was starting to sob digging around my bag. Despite every effort to the contrary, the memories of last Halloween were filling my mind and I was recalling the look of pure exultant joy on the face of the man that I saw my future with knowing he had already chosen another… “Excuse me?” I hear a voice from slightly behind me and turning around I was face to face with a middle-aged woman. Wiping my face quickly I did my best to put on a smile and “brave face”. “Yes?” I asked trying my best to look respectable and courteous despite wanting to run away to be alone. “I’m so sorry to bother you but I was wondering if you might be willing to help me with something. I brought this old chest to sell at the antique store here and I’m having some trouble getting it out of my car. Would you be so kind as to help me?” “Of course. Let me just put my bag in my car quick and I’ll be right there.” I smiled again and using the remote on my keys to unlock the doors, which I had finally located and extricated from the jungle of my gym bag, tossed the bag in the back seat and followed to her vehicle. “Thank you so much for this. I was counting on someone in the store being able to help me, but no one seems to be around and I’m in a bit of a hurry.” She did look slightly frazzled saying this and checked her watch to see the time. “It’s no trouble. I’m happy to help out.” She had a sizeable chest, at least a good 3 feet long and 2 feet wide secured with bungie cords into the trunk of her car. It had very intricate carvings all along it and despite looking extremely old, it was in almost immaculate condition. “This is beautiful.” I commented as I began undoing the bungie cords. “It’s a hope chest, right? My mom has one. Not nearly as detailed as this but about the same size.” “Yes. It belonged to my great aunt who recently passed away. I’m in charge of her estate and when some things didn’t sell at the auction and no one claimed them as inheritance, my only choice left was to sell them. For some reason this one didn’t sell at the auction even though the auctioneer was sure it would be one of the highest ticket items due to its condition. A friend suggested I bring it here.” Having been dragged to several auctions as a kid (and hating every minute of it) this was odd to me. Usually people will buy the strangest things when they can do so for pennies on the dollar of what they are actually worth. And this piece seemed highly valuable, so it was a shock to me that someone hadn’t snatched it up. I managed to pull the chest out easily enough given it was empty and she closed the trunk. “Actually, my friend suggested I try for that Antique Roadshow first and that maybe it would be end up being worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, but I don’t want to spend that much time and effort on it. I just need to get rid of it as I live out of state and can’t miss too much more work.” “I’m sorry to hear that. Loosing someone is never easy.” I puffed out as I walked trying my best to hold onto this thing. It was an awkward shape and size with no handles and I guess, without realizing it, I was trying to show off for this complete stranger by not having her help me carry it. Hearing about this woman’s family member dying shifted my mind immediately back to Lee as I walked toward the antique store next door to my gym. It was so strange that I only now realized it was exactly like a death that I was mourning but he was still alive. He was forever out of my life as though he died but he is still living and happy just not with me which somehow made it that much worse. “Thank you. To be honest, I never knew her that well so I’m not sure why she entrusted me to do all this, but here I am.” She shrugged at this and walked a bit ahead of me to hold open the door to the antique store. “You can just leave that here they said. Someone will take it to the back when we’re done filling out the paperwork after the appraisal. Thank you so much again for your help.” “You’re very welcome. I hope you have a good rest of your day and sorry again for your loss.” I smiled and turned to leave when something about the chest recaptured my attention. The woman was already moving deeper into the store to find the clerk or whomever to do the appraisal, but I was drawn back to this chest. It really was beautifully decorated and well maintained on the outside. Wonder what the inside looks like I thought and found myself kneeling to open it. It opened smoothly and was almost completely empty except for a single piece of paper. Reaching in to check it wasn’t something the woman might need that would accidently get lost with the chest, I found myself stunned at what I was looking at. The page looked and felt ancient. That really old thick paper or parchment that you see in movies or TV shows that is from the 1700’s or something. It didn’t feel delicate or fragile despite its apparent age. It was obviously torn from a book given the single jagged edge, but the rest of whatever book it came from was nowhere to be found. What was even more intriguing about this old page however was what was written on it: This page is conjured for a person whose life is woefully out of balance. Someone has caused you great pain for their own gain and this must be brought back to balance. Use the power of All Hallows Eve to call upon the forces needed to restore balance. If you truly believe, the instructions will appear. If not, this page will soon vanish and travel to the next person most in need of its services. I looked up with the overwhelming desire to laugh. This had to be a joke, right? Was there a camera somewhere, or was this planned just for me? It was too… specific. Well no more or less specific than most psychic readings in my opinion. Despite my skepticism, I always thought there was something out there beyond the tangible. Never really anything as mainstream as magic as that felt too easy, but I’ve had too many unexplainable things happen that I can’t help but believe there is some kind of force working in our lives that we haven’t identified… or maybe just forgot about/lost faith in? I looked around the store quickly to see if the woman had returned or was nearby to ask about this strange page and when I couldn’t locate her, assumed she went into a manager's office or back room and returned my gaze to the paper. There, below the first few lines, a new sentence appeared: No this is not a joke. That wasn’t there before. I know it wasn’t. Must have been some reaction to the sunlight after being planted in the dark chest. I remember reading about inks and dyes that act like “invisible” ink but require light or heat to be made visible again. Definitely a neat trick or novelty item, especially given that Halloween was so close. The only thing that could have made this even creepier would be… James I watched as my name was written onto the parchment. Not slowly appeared as though the ink were drying, but actually written out, letter by letter by some unseen hand. I dropped the paper in shock. Okay… either this is the best prank setup in history… Or it’s real. Like really real. Holy… or maybe unholy? There was no denying now that I believed this was some sort of magic but the question now thundering in my head was: what would be the cost of using it? I heard the sing song, high pitched voice of Rumpelstiltskin from Once Upon A Time in my head: “Magic always comes with a price dearie”. What exactly would happen? Restore my life to balance? That could mean any number of things. Without even really registering it, I had picked up the paper from the floor, folded it gently before putting it in my pocket then I was walking towards the back of the store to find the woman. She was talking to a man in what looked like a back-office area. “How much would you like for the chest?” I asked before really thinking through what I was asking. Why do I suddenly want to buy this woman’s hope chest? I didn’t have a use for it, didn’t really have a place for it in my apartment... but something inside told me I had to have it. “Oh!” She was shocked by this and said she’d be happy with $200. I told her I would be right back as there was an ATM at the end of the strip mall. The salesperson looked annoyed and I heard him say he could beat the price, offering to pay several hundred dollars more, but apparently the fact that no one from the store had helped her move the chest countered the lost income. Not to mention would save her time not having to fill out paperwork and wait for this guy before she could leave. I returned about 5 minutes later with the cash in hand and hauled off the chest I just brought inside back out to my car. Bringing over the bungie cords she had used and giving them to me as a ‘bonus with purchase”, she shook my hand and thanked me. I moved around to the driver’s door pulling out the folded page from my pocket as I went and got in the car. I had originally planned to go home and have my post workout meal but as I sat in the car looking at the unfolded page with the instructions for what to do magically appearing, I knew those plans had changed. Now, I have a couple stops to make.
This story kind of took me by surprise. It has a life of its own. It's completely different from anything I've written before. It is romance-based and also a college story of first love. It is absolutely separate from anything else I've written here so if you like my previous stories thematically, just know this story has nothing in common with the rest of my work. I have almost the entire thing already written. I'm just editing now. I'm working on the last two chapters. Part 1 Northern California Not San Francisco, winter 1998 My name is Pete and this is my story about how I started to live a new life because my old one was really painful, and sometimes you have so much pain in your life, you need to walk away from it and just forget all of it ever existed. I was a freshman in college and walking through the chill night air, my breath turning to fog, when I heard Dane sobbing. He sat there in a T-shirt, on a damn cold night, sobbing and shivering. It was the strangest sight. Here was a behemoth of a man, a muscular giant of a man, the man I idolized, and he was unable to stop crying. I wanted to immediately walk over and give him my jacket, but I knew that was stupid because my jacket would never fit him. I didn’t know what to do at first. I wanted to go over and hold him, but I’m unable to do that with people. Especially big people. Big guy people that look like Dane, with their enormous melon-arms and ash blond crew cuts. His rugged, masculine, awe-inspiring face that could be in a commercial, a perfect face that I could see in a suit behind a Senator’s desk someday, or a sales company executive position, or the football uniform that he wore on the field. And he was alone. And he shouldn’t be alone. I stood there, between two dorm buildings. He was sitting on the steps to his dorm. I walked over to him, and I didn’t really plan on it. What I wanted to do was keep walking because I tend to hide from people. I run away from them. I’ve done it all my life out of necessity in order to stay alive. But I was sick of the old me. I was sick of feeling like the old me. “Dane?” He looked up at me. He wasn’t startled. He had noticed me walking across the dew-covered green. The fog was so thick you could see it obscuring the dorms at the far ends of the long rectangular quad. “Hey.” I kept my voice low. “You shouldn’t be out here with a T-shirt on. You wanna go inside? Or, if not, I can go run and get you a blanket because dude, you are gonna freeze to death.” “It’s okay.” He sniffed. “Leave me alone.” I hesitated. “I’m not supposed to do that.” That just came to me. Things happen like that with me. “Huh?” “Remember all that stuff I told you?” “Oh,” he said emptily. Something was very wrong here. “They’re telling me to bring you inside. So. Yeah.” I felt awkward but I knew he was going to get sick if he stayed outside too much longer. “I don’t want you to get sick. And you will.” “Okay.” He said quietly. He got up, as if he was unsure where he was and walked into his dorm room and I was right behind him, for some reason. I immediately asked him if he had any tea. He didn’t answer me so I opened a few cupboards and found some and got a pot of water boiling. Dane was sitting on the couch, his hands clasped, tears silently falling down his face, drying as he stared at nothing. His roommate Pat was there. Pat was a short Jewish guy, with a curly black mat of hair. Thin as a reed. Confident, though. Really confident. And mature. He was a good guy. Pat walked out cautiously from his room to check out what was happening. It was late, so he whispered even though there was no one else in their apartment because the walls between your dorm room and the next were always going to be thin. “Hey.” Pat crossed his arms and leaned against the wall, staring at me. “Was he outside like this?” “Yeah,” I whispered back. I walked past him to gently open Dane’s door. I turned on the light and found a big warm brown jacket with fleece lining, something that dwarfed me, and brought it out. He opened his arms mechanically and shrugged it on and then he leaned over sideways and said, after a while, “My father died.” And then I didn’t know what to say. Dane was the biggest, strongest man I’d ever met. He was on the football team. He was everything I wasn’t: big, strong, powerful, brave, sexy, self-assured, calm. I was shy, lonely, self-isolating, sheltered, an emotional trainwreck, only recently out, and I was more attracted to him than anyone I’d ever known. It should have been me crying in the middle of the night freezing my ass off. It threw me. This couldn’t be happening. But it was, and it was happening to this man who I avoided rather than lust after him, because I was gay but incredibly realistic about my prospects with him. And I didn’t want to do that to myself, lust after someone I couldn’t have. It hurt too much to love, to love too much, to love someone who didn’t think about you that way. But I should back up at this point, because it’s kind of important to tell you about how we met. Part 2 Beginning of fall semester, 1998 I met a lot of people when I got to uni. I wasn’t used to people. I was the only one who had brought literally everything I owned, because before that I was in foster care. What I owned filled one suitcase. I had been with a couple who were tolerant at first until they began to suspect I might be gay. The high voice, the lack of coordination and ability to play sports, the enthusiasm I showed over bodybuilding magazines that I hid under my mattress that the wife found. I tried to tell them I just was really excited about the idea of getting bigger in a gym. That didn’t work because they confronted me. They wouldn't let me leave unless I told them the truth. I hate it when people do that. Ask me to tell the truth. It’s so wrong. Then they sent me back. So that was that. I had tried to train myself not to feel anything. The thing that sucked was I liked them. I was afraid they wouldn’t like me and my worst fear had come true. That happened to me a lot. All my worst fears had already come true. But here’s the thing. When all your worst fears come true, there’s nothing left to be afraid of. Not even death. I never felt sorry for myself over any of it. And I’d been through such hell. But for whatever reason, I was alive, and I couldn’t mess up a single class or I wouldn’t graduate from college. So that occupied like 90% of my thoughts most of the time because I ran off of stress. It kept me alive. And that was the thing I was hoping would normalize me somehow, going to college. I remember thinking how I wanted to be a normal person. “So, Pete, tell me about yourself.” This was the thing my Residential Advisor Michael had said to me as he wanted to interview me for a newsletter that he was putting together. He was also new to the school and he had asked me to help him out. He was putting together a newsletter for the dorms. He was friendly and intelligent and for whatever reason he was interested in me. I had no idea why. He had come over to my shared dorm on a Friday night but there was no room in my bedroom because it was very cramped and two of my roommates were having fun in the living room talking loudly. He asked my third roommate Jay if we could use his room for the interview. Each bedroom was made for two people but his was much bigger than the one for me and Jeff. This is important because Jay was just ignoring us and working on something or other on his computer. Or looking at porn, maybe. I didn’t know but he was nice to me, so I supported him in his efforts to look at boobs and tried to join in and act like him and all my other roommates when they checked out hot women on TV. But I was flummoxed. What could I say about myself? “I don’t know what to say. Um. Hmm. I like to read a lot. I like to read science fiction and fantasy. A lot. Big epics. I’m reading Dan Simmons books right now. He’s really good.” “Why don’t you tell me about your family? Who’s in your family?” “I don’t have any family. They’re all dead.” Boy, can I kill the vibe. It never failed. My reality was a downer. I didn’t always realize that, though. I said it in a chipper way, like I was in a job interview and just trying to pretend I was really happy to be there. I had retrained my brain, you see. Act like them. Act like them and they will think you’re one of them. His face had changed so quickly. He looked at me, this handsome, middle-aged religion major with glasses and a squarish chin. Thinning, prematurely gray blond hair cut neat and short. Not like my mess of a bird’s nest of brown hair that just went in all directions. I had a tendency back then to compare myself to everyone unfavorably, in case you hadn’t guessed. “When did they die?” Cue look of concern. No need for concern. I’m fine. “Well, my father committed suicide because he was a war veteran when I was a baby and my mother died of cancer when I was 13. My grandmother, I lived with her for a while until she got dementia. She just died but I hadn’t seen her in years. She didn’t know who I was anymore. So it’s okay. So I went to live in foster care but they kick you out when you’re 18. So I emancipated myself. I’m actually 17 but I graduated high school at 16 so I could come here. So, I’m on my own!” I finished with a shrug and a smile. He adjusted his glasses and seemed lost in thought for a brief second before coming back to me. “Pete. Um. Wow. That’s really powerful.” At this point, Jay left the room silently and closed the door behind him. “Huh?” “I think, maybe, it’s a bad idea to do an article about you. I think…what I’d like to do instead is just talk to you. I think you need it.” “Oh. Sorry.” “No! Don’t be sorry. Look, you’re…incredible.” “No one thinks that. No one ever thinks that.” “Well, I think that, and I’m someone. And, I’d really appreciate it if you could tell me more.” No one had ever really been interested in me before. It was a new feeling. “I don’t know what to say. I just want to be normal. And uh. I’m the only one here who doesn’t have parents. So that’s not normal. Everyone else does have them. They all have families. It’s weird. It makes me feel…like I’m not one of them. Like they can’t relate to me and I can’t relate to them. So I just...” “Have you thought about getting counseling?” “You mean like, how to get a job?” “Nnnnno. I mean, as in psychological.” Oh God. He thinks there’s something wrong with me, I thought. I immediately felt his shock resonating through me. I felt disgust for myself. I felt his pity for me and I hated it. “Oh. I didn’t know I needed that. I just thought that if I came here I could be like everyone else.” Easy peasy. Problem solved. No trauma here, folks. I’m just fine and dandy. One day, I would be one of those happy people bouncing up and down on the beach on MTV’s Spring Break. I would meet Carson Daly and tell him I thought he was really hot. I would watch hot college guys throw water balloons at each other on stage. I would live the dream. “I think it takes a really special person to admit those things and to have survived through those things.” I was trying to look away from Michael so I couldn’t see his face. I avoided eye contact kind of a lot back then. “I’m not special. I don’t think that’s true.” Maybe in an X-Files sense. I was special but not in ways I could tell anyone about, ever. “Maybe you’re more special than you think.” You have no idea. That’s why I don’t want to be special. I don’t want to be different. You have to understand, this was 1998. Intersectional wasn’t a thing I’d ever heard of and all I wanted was to be a straight white male instead of a gay white male because it was the best possible thing I could be. So I was pretending to be one and it was going swimmingly so far. I didn’t have any problems so long as I kept my mouth shut and made everyone believe me. I was going to be normal. “I don’t know,” I said. “So, do you mind if I ask you, what was your childhood like?” Michael asked me. My mind reeled. I said the first thing that came to my mind. “It was pretty bad. I grew up homeless. I just wanted to die a lot. I was hungry a lot. I was hungry living with my stepfather, too.” Why was I telling him all this?? “You had a stepfather.” Oh goddamnit. “Yeah. But, I didn’t live with him for too much longer after my mother died. He liked to push me into things. Walls. The floor. His fist. He liked to break things. Break me. He uh. I didn’t like living with him. So I told someone. Then I went to live with my grandmother. But…she didn’t understand how old I was. And she kept thinking I was five or she would confuse me with my mother and she would just start screaming at me to give her the drugs and I would just cry and tell her I didn’t do drugs. And then she stopped eating. She told me she was going to starve herself to death so I called the cops and they came and took her away and she was just, screaming. I visited her in the home one time. She started screaming at me that I was a…she used bad words. It was bad. She kept getting me confused with other people. She didn’t like me anymore. So, I couldn’t go back. I lived with this nice couple for a while and I really wanted them to like me but in the back of my mind I knew it probably wouldn’t last. So it hurt less, I think, when they said I wasn’t good enough to live there. I mean, they didn’t say that. They said, “we think you’ll be a lot happier living somewhere else.”” “Why did they say that?” He was genuinely horrified now. I hadn’t even told him the really bad stuff. “They found some magazines. I bought.” “Porn?” “No! I would never! They had clothes on. But, they just didn’t like them. I wasn’t good enough. For them. But it’s fine.” “Pete, are you gay?” He whispered. Oh God. I started crying at that point. I felt so stupid. I put my hands over my head. Stupid, stupid, stupid! “You can’t say anything! I finally tricked everyone this time! I can be normal!” We stood up at the same time. He came over to me slowly, and hugged me, carefully. “You are. You are normal.” “I just want to be what everyone wants me to be,” I mumbled. “I’ve been so careful. And then you saw it. I should have lied. I shouldn’t have told you that. I fucked up. Fuck.” He sighed. “Okay. Would you like to take a walk? Get some coffee?” I nodded. “I think that would be a good idea." I nodded again. "Go to the bathroom and wash up. I’ll wait for you outside in the hallway.” So I did and we went over to a local café. We sat there in the student lounge café. It was pleasant. We talked a little bit. Our talk had a bit more levity to it. I’m clever when I want to be. He told me so. He wasn’t coming onto me or anything. I wondered if he was gay. He seemed like he might be but I’d never made a gay friend before. But I liked him. I liked Michael. He was nice to me. And we talked. And that’s when I saw Dane. Dane would change my life forever, by the way. Dane was huge. Bigger than life. His muscles were so big I thought I would have a heart attack. I was already so stupidly emotional that night and now here I was, lusting and drooling automatically after an enormous jock that dwarfed me and my pathetic 5’8” 145 frame. I remember Michael introduced us. I remember going into this autopilot mode. I looked up at him and he said something in his deep voice and I just wanted him to hold me but that would have been entirely inappropriate and I would have been a terrible person if I’d just reached out and grabbed those big…huge…unbelievable muscles of his. I only came up to his chest. There was just so much more of him. He had to be one of the tallest guys on campus easily. I thought he was 6'4". It would turn out he was actually 6’6” and still growing. “Hi!” I kept saying over and over again. My mind broke and I couldn’t think straight. I think I said hi like four times before Michael realized I was short circuiting and Dane was looking at me weird so Michael excused us because we were having a chat. That was my first time meeting Dane. It was the night I finally told someone I was gay. Michael was nice to me and told me where I could go to get counseling. And I did so the following Monday. I signed up dutifully. Because if I wasn’t normal I was going to get someone to make me normal. To coax me into normality. Or maybe I could just teach myself to be normal through some kind of self help book. “Your Guide to Being Normal and Not a Muscle Fetishist Lusting After Giant Jocks” On second thought, fuck that book that I just made up in my head. Part 3 I stood in front of my roommates: Jeff, Jay, and Mike S. Jeff was usually not there because he was usually off having sex with someone. Jodi and Ames where also there. Jodi was who Jeff was usually fucking and Ames lived down the hall. It was short for Amy but everyone just called her Ames. Amy kind of looked like Renee Zellwegger before she got plastic surgery, only she had this larger than life voice and laugh, like a stand up comedian. Jodi looked sort of like Monica from Friends only her black hair was shorter than Courtney Cox’s. But both of them were pretty. Jeff had long hair back then. Like, really long, running halfway down his back, and he wore a short beard. Jeff was a big hippy for the most part. Very easy going. Mike S. had big buck teeth and unkept hair. He couldn't dress for shit and was actually trying to be a stand-up comedian. Jay was the silent type. The cool, compact, guitar-playing lothario of the group. He was the best looking out of the three of them. Mike S. was not really attractive to me. He didn’t take very good care of himself and was already getting fat. But Jay had this classic look to him. Very neatly groomed, hair clipped nice and short, a smooth rich voice. On the small side, though. He was 5’7” and on the thin side but he was deeply in love with a girl that he wrong songs for, and then he would write songs when she dumped him, and then he would find a new girl to write songs for, and then he would write songs when she dumped him. It kind of went on like that all year. These were the only people in my life. I didn’t have anyone else to come out to. They were watching TV and for some reason I’d gotten up. I’d been going to counseling for a few weeks and learned that the goal wasn’t for my counselor to “fix” me like I was an old pipe. I thought it would be easy, but it turns out I actually had to do all of the work and dig deep and not pretend I was someone else because apparently that would not make me happy. “I um. I have…I have something to tell you guys. And um. Um. It’s kind of important.” Jodi grabbed the remote and muted the TV. I think she knew as soon as I was there what I was going to say. “I’m…kind of…not straight.” I’ve just been pretending to be. Sorry about that! “So, you’re gay?” “Well that is the option that’s left, so yes. Is that…um…is that…okay…with you?” “Pete, I’m bisexual,” Amy told me, matter-of-factly. “Oh,” I said, rather in shock. “I did not know that.” “Wait, WHAT?” Mike S. said. “Are you sure?” “Yeah. I’m gay. It um. It just sort of happened. You know.” “Pete,” said Jeff the hippy. “We love you. You know that, right?” “You guys owe me ten bucks each.” Jay said, coolly. “Jay! Shut UP.” Jodi told him. “I’m just kidding. I didn’t know. But we thought you might be.” “Really?” “But you know, fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly. You know what I’m sayin’?” “I think so,” I said. I kept picturing gay birds and fish fucking each other or trying to. Fish don’t really fuck. I pictured gay fish throwing their sperm at each other during mating season, swimming between the sea-grass. I pictured Don Knotts exclaiming “I don’t want to have sex with a Ladyfish!” in his obnoxious fish voice from The Incredible Mr. Limpet. I’m just letting you know, dear reader, I used to watch a lot of old movies and I didn’t have any humans to raise me so TV had to take over for that. “Do you think that birds can be gay or..” “Probably,” Jay said. “Anyway, it’s cool.” Amy got up and hugged me. I’d never really hung out with her much but she was really very sweet. “It’s fine. We love you.” “I didn’t know that. I thought…” “Does your family know?” Jodi asked. “I don’t really have a family. I was in foster care. The couple I was with sent me back, though. They didn’t order a gay and I think they got Asian takeout after me.” “Well you should have gotten higher SAT scores!” Mike S. the comedian said. “Yeah, I know.” “Don’t you have a grandmother?” Jodi asked. “I did, but she died. She kind of lost her mind. I told her once when I came to visit but she sort of yelled at me that I was a communist faggot and the Soviets had gotten to me.” Mike S. started belly laughing. “Oh my God, that is SO terrible, but you HAVE to let me use that in my routine.” “Yeah, why not?” “So I’m just curious. When we were watching MTV, and you were checking out hot girls with us, you were not actually attracted to them.” Jay said. “No, not at all.” “Are you attracted to the guys?” “Yes, very much.” “Okay, then. Well, that takes care of that.” Jay grabbed his guitar. “I have to go meet Charlene. If you want to bring a guy over, it’s cool.” “Thanks. Thank you. Thanks.” “No prob,” Jay said, and went to find a girl to sing to. “Pete? Do you want to watch TV with us?” Jeff asked. “Yeah. That’d be cool.” Jodi and Amy smiled. They had a new gay friend. “We are gonna have so much fun checking out guys together,” Jodi said. She put her hand on my knee. “Maybe eventually? It’s a little bit soon for that.” “So who do you think is hot?” Amy asked. “NOT ME, PLEASE.” Mike S. said. “Definitely not you.” I affirmed. “Hey! That’s probably for the best.” He giggled. “Yeah, no you’re like family. That would be gross.” “I also think it would be gross to have sex with you. Good. We’re on the same page here.” “Yeah, I would rather my tongue fall out than actually kiss you.” I told him. “I would literally rather be kicked in the head by a gay figure skater spinning around on an ice rink than have sex with you.” He countered. “I would literally rather stick my hands up an elephant’s asshole and clean out its shit out with a giant enema and then clean out the shit bits with a giant Q-tip than have sex with YOU.” I shot back. At this point, everyone was laughing and there was no more tension. Everyone except Jay, who was out fucking some girl named Charlene. I had never had sex before, but I had heard good things about it.